UNC-CH graduate Brett Smith and his team have built Durham-based Counter Culture Coffee into a growing, profitable success with a blend of commitment to sustainability, quality – and much more. What are the secrets to building a coffee powerhouse?
In part two of WTW’s interview with Smith, we discuss the ingredients he believes in as well as the company’s “training centers” to introduce customers to its custom blends and its talent for developing award-winning baristas who help spread the Counter Culture brand.
- What’s the secret(s) of Counter Culture’s success?
Our success has come from the collective motivation of the people that are part of this team.The attitude of continuing to push potential and challenge ourselves has been integral to our success.
That’s part of our culture, and when you establish that it builds on itself. As a result, we have an amazing collection of people on the Counter Culture team; we push our team and our suppliers and they push us.
That attitude of always trying to improve and be better and bring on people that do that too has been our greatest factor of success.
We’ve found incredible coffees and built unique training centers and pushed to make changes, to not be complacent and not settle.
This industry is dynamic and if we’re not part of that, we’ll be left behind. That’s why we’re willing to evolve.
That has to stay part of our culture so we can continue growing and succeeding in the next 5, 10, 50 years down the road.
- Your firm has produced some top baristas, such as national competition winner Lem Butler. Why are they important to the company?
Often we talk about pushing potential, and we think about that in every aspect of our business — how we work with farmers, how we teach, how we learn, how we roast, how we explore coffee.
What’s our potential?
Barista competitions are all about pushing and exploring.
Baristas like Lem who step up and accomplish so much are challenging themselves and the industry; they’re challenging how we think about the industry. If we don’t continue to look forward then we won’t have success. Inspiring people like Lem really get us excited and keep us motivated to continue to push the boundaries and not settle for less than excellence.
- How do you benefit from these training centers? Attract more corporate buyers?
The training centers help us take the Counter Culture show on the road, so to speak. Because we don’t operate retail shops, they allow us to reach a larger audience and interact with the public.
Our wholesale partners and consumers can come in and get to know us, experience what we offer and taste our coffee, which is paramount to our long-term success.
We also support our partners and help them improve their craft in our labs through our Counter Intelligence coffee education program.
- Is the home brewing training offering designed to get more consumers excited about your products?
Absolutely — we’ve found more and more consumers are interested in learning a lot more about coffee and making the best cup at home. They’re also curious about the product, where it comes from, how it’s processed, and how it’s roasted.
There’s a curiosity and interest that goes beyond the coffee shop owner that’s really growing, and we love to educate and share what we’ve come to know about coffee.
- How many employees do you have now, and where are they located?
Just under 90. About half [are] in Durham and others are spread at our locations around the country. And we have one in Ethiopia! We hired Getu Bekele last year to work with our farmer partners in East Africa.
- Is the company profitable? Are revenues growing?
The company is profitable and last year we grew just over 20 percent. We feel we’ll maintain that growth rate again for 2016.
Read Part One of our interview at: